The issues of sovereign borders and self-rule seldom fail to garner a great deal of attention. The monikers cast upon those taking up the cause of leading their homelands towards self-rule are generally cruel such as traitors, rebels, or even terrorist, but on occasion, these people are seen as freedom fighters. It is ironic that in a time where Presidents seem to pander and anguish over every American life lost to violence that Abraham Lincoln who oversaw the death of over 620,000 soldiers that died during the civil war is seen by many as our greatest President. What is the value of keeping any nation together against the will of its people?
What is happening in Ukraine and the unrest in many areas of the world brings into focus the many conflicts that develop when a region decides to change governments often outside the recognized democratic system of voting. In some cases, even after an overwhelming vote such as in Crimea, the whole process is called into question. Unfortunately, the American civil war did little to resolve the issue of whether people had the right to secede or withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization. The American civil war did little to resolve whether people had the right to secede or withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization and certainly should not be used as a template for a solution. The bottom-line is that it is usually the politicians that refuse to give up control and this will not change.
Several recent votes in areas across the world have shown the debate on self-rule is alive and well. One of the events rekindling the debate of sovereign borders was a vote in northern Iraq where over 90% of Kurds are said to have voted to separate from the country and form their own nation. Sometimes people seek to go their own way because they feel oppressed or because of cultural differences. At other times it is in an effort to assert more control over their own lives and destiny. When these votes occur it is not uncommon to see a great deal of passion unleashed by those on both sides of the issue.
In Spain, the Catalans appear ready to exercise their will. While they live well, in the prosperous heart of Europe many Catalans have grown to adulthood believing that they were, simply, not Spanish. Their desire for independence or self-rule is not the result of any external threat, war or by an economic collapse but driven by deep grievances that go to the bone. The need to break away from Spain traces all the way back to 1714, when Philip V of Spain captured Barcelona during the War of Spanish Succession, bringing an end to the Catalan principality. The reawakened political movements, both in Catalonia and in Madrid have magnified the partisan media on both sides and resulted in the Spanish government’s blunt, reflexive clampdown on those supporting the Catalan referendum.
The aim of this article is to examine some of the issues concerning self-rule and how the world reacts when people go in search of what they see as “freedom”. We must understand that being recognized as legitimate by other governments is one of the first hurdles newly formed groups face. After that consider operating and running a government is expensive and requires a bit of experience. A lack of expertise is also a major stumbling block to long-term success. The leaders of change or a revolution often do not possess the skills to progress through this next level. The problem of corruption does not automatically vanish with regime change.
In June of 2013, I wrote an article about Scotland and the issues involved in its leaving the UK. It pointed out that such an event would affect the British currency when voters in Scotland moved towards a decision as to whether to separate from the UK and opted for independence in a referendum. What an independent Scotland might do about a currency was up in the air. Another matter was whether the newly formed independent country would depart “Scot free” or would inherit part of the massive national debt owed by the UK. To clarify, in our modern world setting up your own independent nation is a formidable and complicated endeavor.
Clouding these debates we often see matters such as whether to print a new currency or nationalize existing banks, both cause concerns of future economic stability. Another problem and question I tried to highlight in that article was the danger that if the UK Government was agreeable to allowing Scotland to go their merry way, Wales and Northern Ireland might also be inspired to move towards independence. At the time I noted it might also encourage similar movements in Catalonia, Belgium, Northern League in Italy, Basques, Cornish, and among the Poles. During a movement for independence relationships are often strained and even when they are turned back that does not mean the issue is dead.
What we are talking about comes down to governance and the right of people to choose under whose rule they want to live. Sometimes it is about one group of people forcing their will upon another. Ethnic pride, taxation, persecution, and sometimes simply the desire for more autonomy lead the move towards independence. While the idea of living in a smaller country may have some benefits it can often muck up the works and result in expensive bureaucratic duplication. It is difficult for a small country to function in our modern world and meet all the legal benchmarks required by their larger brethren. Currency, passports and documentation, conflicts over enforcing laws with other countries, and other problems quickly surface.
Borders are a creation of man and not visible to the birds flying above. Much bloodshed and many wars could be avoided if the issues of regime change or borders could be handled in a more rational and constructive way, but do not expect this to happen. Borders and political control is a problem that haunts man since before the written word. A few years back it was President Obama talking about the legal sanctity of sovereign borders, but this was at a time he wanted them honored. The truth is this is an argument of convenience masking deeper issues. When it comes down to it we are just pawns in this sad power game. If you doubt this just ask some of the many people displaced from their homes in Syria.
H/T: Bruce Wilds